Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Johnson weighs pledging Britain to tougher emissions cuts target
- Boris Johnson’s government had ‘no sense of what we we're doing’, says ousted COP26 president
- Humans waging 'suicidal war' on nature – UN chief Antonio Guterres
- New Zealand declares climate emergency, promises carbon neutral government by 2025
- Automakers pledge to work with Biden to reduce emissions
- German energy regulator awards first permits to close coal plants
- Biden's first task should be working with China on climate change
- The ocean in humanity’s future
- The economic costs of planting, preserving, and managing the world’s forests to mitigate climate change
- Solar geoengineering may not prevent strong warming from direct effects of CO2 on stratocumulus cloud cover
The Financial Times has an exclusive that UK prime minister Boris Johnson “is drawing up plans for a 50% increase in the rate of decarbonisation of the UK economy over the next decade, in a move that would pose big challenges for consumers and industry”. The paper continues: “The prime minister is examining a new target under which the UK would need to cut carbon emissions by about 69% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, superseding the current goal of 61%, according to officials…A new UK target for 2030 emissions reduction would increase the level of cuts needed over the next 10 years from 16 to 24 percentage points — a 50% change. It could require consumers to abandon gas boilers in their homes faster than anticipated and force heavy industry to cut emissions on a more ambitious timetable. British officials cautioned that while a new 2030 goal was being considered by Mr Johnson, he had not signed it off.” Next week, the Climate Change Committee – the UK government’s official climate advisor – is expected to publish it own recommendations for how deep the UK’s cuts need to be over the next couple of decades to reach net-zero by 2050. And a few days later, the UK government will host an online conference for heads of state to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, where it is expected the UK will announce its new climate pledge for 2030. Meanwhile, the Lex column in the Financial Times comments: “Racing to ‘net-zero’ risks losing political support if expensive. But there is an argument for ambition.”
Separately, the Financial Times reports that the “UK government is inviting communities across the country to host Britain’s prototype nuclear fusion plant, which aims to ‘pave the way to a limitless supply of low-carbon clean energy’ by taming the reaction that powers the sun and stars”. The newspaper adds: “Public funding for the fusion reactor called Step – short for Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production – will start with £222m for the four-year design phase, followed by a few billion pounds during construction. The project aims for completion by 2040 when, if all goes well, the reactor and its associated power station will begin to feed hundreds of megawatts into the UK power grid.” The Guardian also covers the news, saying: “The site does not need to be near existing nuclear power stations, but will need 100 hectares of land and a plentiful water supply.”
Many UK publications cover the scathing remarks made by Claire O’Neill during a parliamentary select committee hearing yesterday in which she criticised the government’s preparations for hosting COP26 in Glasgow next year. The Independent reports that O’Neill, the former energy minister who was axed from the role of incoming COP26 president in January, said that cabinet ministers had acted “like amateur hour”. She told the business, energy and industrial strategy (Beis) committee: “There just did not seem to be any sense of what we were actually doing.” She also spoke of the “extraordinary ineptitude and amateurism of those who should have been doing a better job for the prime minister”. The Guardian says O’Neill remarked that “there was no understanding that this was an Olympics-style event, but far more important in terms of the world”. The newspaper adds: “Due to the ‘public monstering’ of her reputation, O’Neill said she had been advised to sue for unfair dismissal and gender bias – there were no other women in the top COP26 team, and few in Downing Street – but she told MPs she had rejected the idea as she preferred to be supportive of the government’s presidency of COP26.” The i newspaper says that O’Neill called for “petty politics” to be put aside and for a “Swat team” of former prime ministers to act as COP26 ambassadors. BusinessGreen describes her comments as “blistering”, adding: “O’Neill warned ministers needed to urgently build on the plan and recognise COP26 as ‘the most important diplomatic event for the last 20 years and possibly for the next 20 years’.” Politico says that O’Neill was concerned that “Whitehall infighting” was hampering preparations and that civil servants in the Treasury and business departments “adamantly did not want to host the COP”.
Meanwhile, BBC News reports that “former foreign office minster Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence committee, said the UK needs a ‘grand fromage’ to host the event”. The news outlet adds: “Business secretary Alok Sharma lacks the ‘bandwidth’ to head a climate conference alongside his cabinet job, MPs and climate experts have warned.” Separately, the Guardian covers the “Mock COP26”, which has been attended by young people from 140 countries. The newspaper says delegates have presented 18 policies to Nigel Topping, the UK’s high level climate action champion: “Their demands include climate education at every level of formal education, tougher ecocide laws, stronger regulation on air quality, banning the offshoring of emissions and a commitment to limiting global heating to below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.”
BBC News previews a major speech on the environment expected to be given later today by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres. The news outlet says: “Mr Guterres wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN’s global mission. In a speech entitled State of the Planet, he will announce that its ‘central objective’ next year will be to build a global coalition around the need to reduce emissions to net-zero…Mr Guterres will say that every country, city, financial institution and company ‘should adopt plans for a transition to net-zero emissions by 2050’. In his view, they will also need to take decisive action now to put themselves on the path towards achieving this vision. The objective, says the UN secretary general, will be to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.” He will also, says BBC News, call for a price to be put on carbon and for fossil fuel subsidies and finance to be phased out.
New Zealand’s government has declared a “climate emergency” and promised that its public sector will become carbon neutral by 2025, reports Reuters. The newswire adds that it was a “symbolic move that critics said needed to be backed with greater actions to reduce emissions”. The Guardian says that prime minister Jacinda Ardern supported the tabling of a motion in parliament which recognised “the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability, and public health through flooding, sea level rise, and wildfire”. However, the Guardian adds that “opposition parties have described the move as a publicity stunt, with the National Party leader, Judith Collins, calling it ‘virtue signalling’”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a group of ruling-party lawmakers in Japan are proposing that “non-fossil fuel, such as renewable energy and nuclear power, should account for 50% or more of Japan’s mix of power sources in 2030”. In October, prime minister Yoshihide Suga said Japan would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. (Carbon Brief has previously published an energy and climate country profile of Japan.)
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald picks up on comments made by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres who says that the world is waiting for a “suicidal” Australia to reverse its stance on climate change. She said: “The climate wars that have been going on in Australia for over a decade now are just – honestly they are such a suicidal situation because Australia…holds such promise with renewable energy…I’ve been pretty vocal about my frustration for so many years of a completely unstable, volatile, unpredictable stand and position on climate change in Australia.” The Guardian notes that Alok Sharma, the UK’s COP26 president, has pointedly “thank[ed] Australian states – but not [the Scott] Morrison government – for backing net-zero” during a speech to an Australian audience. Separately, the Guardian carries a comment piece by former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in which he says: “It is hard to believe that an Australian government would choose to be out of step with the US on a vital national security issue, but right now our national climate policy is not just at odds with that of the incoming US administration, but also with our close friends in the UK and Europe, not to speak of our major trading partners in Japan, South Korea and China.” (Carbon Brief also has a country profile of Australia.)
Finally, the Financial Times says that a “study backed by China’s environmental ministry has called for polluting ‘Belt and Road’ projects to be placed on a negative list to encourage the country’s banks to avoid coal and other environmentally harmful investments along the route”.
Reuters covers the news that the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford and most major automakers in the US, has vowed to work with president-elect Joe Biden on efforts to reduce vehicle emissions “even as the industry remains split over whether to let California set its own emission rules”. John Bozzella, who heads the group, has said his association “looks forward to engaging with the incoming Biden administration…to advance the shared goals of reducing emissions and realising the benefits of an electric future…The long-term future of the auto industry is electric”.
In other US news, Reuters has a feature on how “Biden’s promise to end US fossil fuel subsidies worth billions of dollars a year for drillers and miners could be hard to keep due to resistance from lawmakers in a narrowly divided Congress, including from within his own party” The outlet notes: “Even with a commanding Democratic majority in the Senate in Obama’s first six years in office, he was unable to kill the subsidies.” Bloomberg covers a new report by Insure Our Future, a coalition of 20 climate and consumer protection advocacy groups, which concludes that “big US [insurance[ firms are doing less than their global peers to stop supporting the oil and gas industry”. And Axios looks at “Big Oil’s big reckoning” following news that Exxon has substantially lowered its oil price outlook over the next decade.
Germany’s energy regulator has said that 4,788 megawatts (MW) of hard coal-fired power generation capacity will cease to be marketable from 1 January 2021 as part of a policy to take carbon-polluting capacity out of the market, reports Reuters. The newswire adds: “The move reflects Germany’s commitment to ending the fossil fuels age, idling the equivalent of five nuclear plants in one go, while cushioning the impact on utilities, regions and employment.” Clean Energy Wire also covers the story, saying: “The first auction for the decommissioning of hard coal plants in Germany has been hailed as a success both by coal plant operators and climate activists, as it ensures that plants with a capacity of almost 5 gigawatts will be off the market by the end of the year as planned. The successful bid by operators of plants inaugurated as recently as 2015 is seen as confirmation of coal power’s increasingly difficult market situation. It has also led to renewed criticism of Germany’s overall coal exit plan, as much older and dirtier lignite plants will keep running well after younger plants have gone offline.”
Writing in the Los Angeles Times, former Californian governor Jerry Brown argues that Joe Biden must commit to the following four goals: “Zero-emission transportation, zero-emission buildings, zero-emission electric grid and zero-emission industry.” He adds that “America is only part of the problem and must enlist other nations to combat climate change”. That is where China comes in, he argues, before concluding: “Both countries need to reestablish the US-China Climate Change Working Group, which was a crucial framework for joint climate actions and mutual understanding, launched during secretary of state John F Kerry’s visit to China in April 2013. It led directly to joint climate commitments by Xi and Obama that served as the major catalyst for the success of the 2015 Paris Agreement…Despite the real and profound differences dividing China and the US, Biden and Xi can rise to the challenge and embark together on a path of global transformation. Nothing less stands a chance of reversing the warming temperatures now threatening civilisation.”
Nature has published a special collection – containing a comment, a “world view” piece and an editorial – to mark the global launch of the Ocean Panel’s new Ocean Action Agenda – a commitment from the 14 world leaders of the Ocean Panel to sustainably manage 100% of their national waters by 2025. The articles bring together current evidence-based knowledge of, and future priorities for, different ocean themes, including mitigation of climate change. The launch also includes a report commissioned by the Ocean Panel.
This study investigates the cost of carbon needed to preserve our forests. Using a “global timber model”, the researchers test four “abatement activities” – including “avoided deforestation, forest management activities, increasing harvest rotations, and afforestation/reforestation” – across 16 global regions. The study focuses on testing carbon prices of $5–$100/tCO2. However, the paper finds that for forests to contribute the 10% of mitigation needed to limit global warming to 1.5C, carbon prices will need to reach $281/tCO2 by 2055.
This paper uses high-resolution simulations of stratocumulus clouds to show that solar geoengineering – artificial manipulation of the amount of energy entering and leaving the planet – may not be a “fail-safe” option to prevent global warming. The study finds that as greenhouse gases build up and the planet warms, stratocumulus clouds thin out. It concludes that if solar geoengineering were sustained for more than a century, it could eventually lead to “breakup of the clouds”, triggering global warming of up to 5C. For more on solar geoengineering, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainer.
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